A pre-breakfast phone call: ‘Would you do an interview later?’ The Prime Minister has called the killing of the two police officers in Manchester ‘pure evil’. People want to talk about it.’
Certainly. It’s an important subject.
I tweeted that I was doing this on BBCWM at 10.10.
Someone tweeted back: ‘You should do ‘Thought for the Day”. Hmmm… that would be more like it. Say what you like for a couple of minutes. No cross-examination. This was going to be a down-the-line interview. Slowly the penny dropped. It will be about the death penalty.
I had shown ‘Dead Man Walking’ to a parish group at the weekend and that primed me well. I am against.
I looked up Gwen Adshead’s lecture to The Forgveness Project. That is about evil. I jotted down her key points. It really is worth watching. http://theforgivenessproject.com/news/watch-the-2012-tfp-annual-lecture/
Then the phone rang for the interview. I was suddenly an ‘expert’ on a phone-in programme. After all, I had written a book about forgiveness. The presenter called me ‘Dr Cherry’ and said I was a ‘Reverend Canon’. I heard the previous contributor who was echoing the strongly held views of most of those who had phoned in. ‘This is evil. They are evil. Bring back the death penalty’.
So Dr Cherry, ‘do you believe in evil?’
Evil acts, yes. Evil events, yes. But it is not good to a call a person ‘evil’. It is a shorthand that does more harm than good. It gives permission to to treat them differently to normal people – people like us.
Events might be off the moral map. People are never off the moral map. We can never put them in a dustbin labelled ‘evil’.
So what can we do, Stephen?
Let the law follow due process. Feel the moral outrage but don’t let it interfere with the processes of justice. Incarcerate to protect others and give them time to repent.
Whose interest does that serve?
It’s not about serving interests. It’s how we set the tone for a decent and moral society.
But as a society we have cheapened human life. The media today don’t report murders in the same way as they used to. We take them for granted. Life has lost its value. We need to make the punishement fit the crime
Hang on – you are right that the media don’t report things in proportion to their moral significance. But wrong to suggest that we can establish the value and sanctity of life by giving people a death sentence. And…
Thank you, Dr Cherry.
And that was it. Ethics down the line.